“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a very fun film. As silly as its title, it follows Nicolas Cage playing “Nick Cage,” aka himself, a man with an intense cult following whose storied career in Hollywood ranges from action blockbusters to esoteric art films. But all that success hasn’t shielded him from life’s many troubles, including the financial kind, a plot point in this film that mirrors real life. Fans of Cage can delight in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” as it references his famous and less famous films. There are in-jokes, film trivia, and resurfaced memorabilia, all with the undercurrent of Cage’s signature, winking humor.
My favorite part, though, is Pedro Pascal as the other half of this action/comedy, buddy adventure. Chilean American Pascal plays Javier “Javi” Gutierrez, a Spanish billionaire and potential drug lord. It’s a bit of an ironic casting since we’re so used to seeing Spaniards play Latinxs (and Latinx drug narratives), particularly because there’s no real reason the film needs to be in Spain. I couldn’t help but hypothesize that it’s just one of the film’s many, knowing jokes, gently poking at real-life Spanish actor Javier Bardem (and his compatriots) who keep getting accolades for playing Latinos. I mean, did they have to name the character Javier?
Cross-national casting aside, Pascal’s Javi is a lovable Cage superfan who pays the troubled star an obscene amount of money to come to his birthday party. The two strike up an unlikely friendship as the intrigue mounts and they get to know and appreciate each other. Along the way, the film plays with a movie (or really multiple movies) within the movie, letting its leading men engage in both goofy and wholehearted action sequences — think shootouts, chases, and last stands. There are also plenty of comedic bits from classic misunderstandings to more physical set pieces.
Throughout it all, Pascal holds his own, a cuddlier lead than Cage but one with the same amount of self-knowledge. He’s able to hold the space between evil mastermind and starstruck sidekick with ease, making me question his exact role until the final reveal. In a knowing, recurring bit, he helps Cage become a real-life (in this film) version of his past parts by dropping tidbits learned from DVD extras and interviews at opportune moments. Do they need a getaway driver? Javi reminds Nick that he did his own stunt driving so he’s perfectly prepared for the moment. And it works, teasing both men about their on-camera personas and their limits in real life while also celebrating their roles.
Javi is all soft expressions and moral encouragement, with Pascal leveraging his full body to show his character’s affection for Cage, moral predicament, and own unique back story. It’s quite a different performance from the more staid (and largely concealed) one in “The Mandalorian,” which Pascal helms. We have two leading men who can, and have, done it all.
Pascal is 11 years younger than Cage with about half the screen credits. But they both have impressive careers, and I love the idea of Pascal becoming the older actor’s creative heir. They both have this wide range and intense fandoms. Yes, Pascal has been slower to rise to Hollywood’s top tier, but Cage started life as a Coppola, born into Hollywood royalty. Plus, there’s the whole Anglo vs. Latinx thing with Pascal arguably having to prove that he can play more than the typical stereotypes.
Watching the two of them together, I was struck by just how perfect their pairing is. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is many things, and one of them is a celebration of these two men and their ability to inhabit, transcend, and poke at the role of Hollywood’s leading man. The result is a perfect little capsule of a movie, like Charlie Kaufman films “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” without the darkness. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” also cements Pascal’s status as a man of many talents, a star just a few years behind the impressive Cage and ready to be heir to his legacy.